Esther Lin, MMA Fighting
This weekend could get weird.
While these regularly scheduled predictions are decidedly NOT for the purposes of gambling, it would be negligent to not caution bettors when it comes to wagering on this card given how potentially volatile it could be. Again, stay away.
Just look at the UFC Vegas 6 heavyweight main event between veterans Derrick Lewis and Aleksei Oleinik. Combined, the two have competed in over 100 pro bouts and have legitimately seen it all when it comes to fighting. The only thing they haven’t dealt with is each other and there’s genuinely no telling what will happen when “The Black Beast” tangles with “The Boa Constrictor.”
Sure, it’s a classic striker vs. grappler matchup, but given some of the unpredictable outcomes these two have produced in the cage from Lewis’ out-of-nowhere finishes to Oleinik’s catch-you-slipping submissions to the bizarre battles both men have taken part in, it’s truly foolish to even pretend one has a grasp on how this one will turn out.
Chris Weidman’s return to the middleweight division after an unfortunate 205-pound one-off is also a tough fight to call. “The All-American” faces a daunting task in overcoming Omari Akhmedov, unbeaten in six UFC appearances at 185 pounds, but also the first unranked opponent that Weidman has faced in ages. He’s stumbled against the elite, but should be able to handle the lesser known Akhmedov, right?
In other main card action, Darren Stewart returns from a Cage Warriors sojourn to fight Maki Pitolo in a middleweight bout, Yana Kunitskaya faces Invicta FC bantamweight champion Julija Stoliarenko, and Beneil Dariush takes on Scott Holtzman in a 158-pound catchweight bout after Dariush came in heavy on Friday.
What: UFC Vegas 6
Where: UFC APEX in Las Vegas
When: Saturday, Aug. 8. The entire event will air on ESPN+, with the seven-fight preliminaries starting at 6 p.m. ET, and the five-fight main card starting at 9 p.m. ET.
As unpredictable as this matchup is, here’s what we do know:
- If this fight stays standing, Aleksei Oleinik is toast. Props to Oleinik for continuing to round out his game in the 24th (!) year as a pro, but even the most seasoned standup specialists have to be wary of Derrick Lewis’s might. Don’t expect Oleinik to play around at all on the feet if he knows what’s good for him.
- Oleinik can submit Lewis. Even though Lewis has only been submitted once, he has weaknesses on the ground that can be exploited. It’s the same story as Oleinik though, just in reverse. There will be openings for ground-and-pound if Lewis is smart; otherwise, treat that mat like a steaming griddle.
- This could go the distance. As adept as Lewis and Oleinik are at putting their opponents away, there’s a good chance that they’re so wary of each other’s strengths that we see a stalemate for five rounds. Sorry, someone had to say it.
With that information in hand, who to pick? Do you favor swangin’ and bangin’ or Oleinik’s mystifying arsenal of submissions? Oleinik has shown himself to be susceptible to some of the heavyweight division’s big punchers and Lewis fits that bill to a tee, so he’ll eventually back Oleinik up against the fence and finish with a flurry.
On paper, this seems like an ideal matchup for Chris Weidman’s return to middleweight. Omari Akhmedov has yet to find a finish at 185 pounds, so the hope for Weidman supporters is that this matchup marks the end of Weidman’s streak of KO losses. He’s also closer to the kind of opponent that Weidman dominated on his way up the rankings as opposed to the murderer’s row of names he’s faced for seven straight years.
That said, Akhmedov hits harder than his run of decisions shows. He’s comfortable standing and trading, while also using his Sambo background to get the fight to the ground when he needs to. He’s not an easy mark for anyone, including Weidman.
Akhmedov definitely doesn’t have the same potential to explode as some of Weidman’s recent foils, so that’s a good sign for him. And Weidman’s own offense remains potent. He was right there with Ronaldo Souza before losing in the third and his submission of Kelvin Gastelum was vintage Weidman. It’s defense that has been the issue for the former champion.
Maybe I’m reading too much into their recent results, but I can’t shake the feeling that Akhmedov is better than people think and that he’ll be the next fighter to add Weidman to his list of finishes.
Much of Darren Stewart’s game is based on distance management. If he can control the range, he can piece up most middleweights with his crisp boxing. If he lets someone as dangerous as Maki Pitolo get in close, it could be lights out for him.
Pitolo the gift of being able to quickly generate scary power. He goes from zero to 60 in a blink and if Stewart doesn’t back him off early, Pitolo is going to add him to the highlight reel. Anytime a more technical fighter like Stewart has to figure out a glass cannon like Pitolo, it becomes a sink-or-swim proposition and I think Stewart thrives here. His hands are skilled enough that he should consistently catch Pitolo coming in and he also has the option of mixing in takedowns, which will surely frustrate “Coconut Bombz.”
Stewart’s octagon experience helps a lot here and I see him finding a finish in the second or third round after wearing Pitolo down.
As far as entertainment goes, the expectations for this one are probably unfairly high given the all-out bloodbath that Julija Stoliarenko was involved in with Lisa Verzosa this past March. But Yana Kunitskaya has shown she has a tendency towards high-volume striking battles, so there’s a good chance these two put on a crowd-pleasing (er, if there were a crowd at the APEX) standup duel.
Stoliarenko is technical, but can also be so aggressive. She almost always advances when she throws, looking to both close the distance and immediately find an angle to land something heavy. This means she doesn’t shy away from damage, which could be her downfall yet given Kunitskaya’s own striking acumen.
Clinch work is a key as well as whoever takes the advantage there could pull away on the scorecards. Stoliarenko’s lethwei background gives her the edge here. That’s not to count out Kunitskaya, who has much more experience against higher level competition. As talented as Stoliarenko is, she hasn’t been tested against the likes of Cris Cyborg, Tonya Evinger, and Aspen Ladd, as Kunitskaya has.
I’ll go Stoliarenko by close decision.
Putting aside the oddity of a veteran like Beneil Dariush missing weight, this is exactly the kind of opponent that Scott Holtzman needs to be facing at this stage of his career. “Hot Sauce” is in great shape, has a strong standup game, and has shown he can deal with a variety of styles. However, he’s yet to face someone with the mixture of KO power and submission skills that Dariush has.
I just feel like Dariush is the better all-around fighter. Maybe Holtzman stuffs Dariush’s takedowns and keeps Dariush on the back foot with his lethal straight right. He could also have the advantage later in the fight as he’s been a consistent third-round performer. But I like Dariush’s chances to end this one before that becomes an issue.
Dariush needs to get this one to the mat ASAP and work his magic there, grounding Holtzman until he finds an opening for a fight-ending submission.